Law as a Love and Paradise

What do you think of Psalm 119? A very knowledgeable teacher of mine, a master of Hebrew and ancient languages, considered it “boring and repetitious.” A great German Lutheran Old Testament Scholar considered this Psalm “a particularly artificial product of religious poetry … a many colored mosaic of thoughts which are often repeated in wearisome fashion” (Weiser). But, we must ask, is something wrong with the psalm or something wrong with us? Consider Augustine ─ when commenting on the Psalms, he skipped it at first “because as often as I began to reflect on it, it always exceeded the utmost stretch of my powers. For in proportion as it seems more open, so much the more deep it appears to me; so that I cannot show how deep it is.”

In our last post we talked about the paradox of attitudes in vv. 1-8, a passion/boldness with deep distrust of self (vv. 5, 8). But consider v. 44 where we see juxtaposed two seemingly contrary ideas, freedom and law! The word “torah” comes from a word that means “to teach.” The ancients associated God’s law (teachings, instructions) with order. All things were made in the context of creation with boundaries and the order boundaries bring. If we look at the Garden of Eden it was made with a physical boundary to protect paradise from the chaos surrounding it, but also moral/spiritual boundaries to protect paradise from moral and spiritual chaos. By definition chaos is that which is without boundaries. Only God, who fills all things, can live comfortably without boundaries. We as creatures need boundaries, both physical and moral, to thrive.

Think of it! There was law in the garden with the prohibition concerning the Tree of Good and Evil, law with the patriarchs (Gen. 17:1 18:19, 22:18) law with Moses, and there is law in the NT. If we count the commands and consider what is expected of Christians, we see that there is far more law and higher expectations in the Gospel than there was in the Old Testament (Matt. 5:48)! In fact, Jesus is the very Law of God, the Incarnate Word living in us though the Holy Spirit, and therefore we are empowered to be the obedient people the law always envisioned. Finally, there will be law in heaven, for by definition paradise is law, is order! I use to wonder why the Holy City described in Revelation had massive, high walls. After all, why would there be a need for protection when sin and evil had been destroyed? Then I found the answer; we were made for boundaries; we cannot be God and be happy! All the unhappiness of our dark age can be traced to one thing ─ a rejection of law and boundaries.

Law in its purest expression is obedience. Obedience is the cheerful submission of will to God. Submission of will is expressed in selflessness. Selflessness is love. The inevitable conclusion is that the law is love. Jesus says, “if you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…” (John 14:10). There is no real conflict between faith and law either. Consider Bonhoeffer’s famous cry: “Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes” Cost of Discipleship, p. 69.

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